Friday, June 26, 2009

Conversation with two vandals

Actually, it was not a conversation at all. I eavesdropped on a pair of them whilst riding the bus through a succession of inner western suburbs. From the snippets that I picked up, both were at TAFE, and they had a good idea of which vandals had tagged or sprayed various walls and buildings between Camperdown and Leichhardt.

I was pleased to see that they also puzzled over the provenance of a tag on a bus shelter, trying to work out what the illegible scrawl was supposed to mean. They couldn't work it out, so their final decision on the matter was, "that shit is fucking gay".

To steal some lines from "Batman":

Alfred Pennyworth: When I was in Burma, a long time ago, my friends and I were working for the local Government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being
raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn't find anyone who had traded with him. One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing the stones away.

Bruce Wayne: Then why steal them?

Alfred Pennyworth: Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

They laughed and hooted and hollered as the bus travelled down the road and they spied tags on this structure or that. One delivery truck that was covered in tags was especially well regarded, as in, "Somebody really fucked that shit up".

They delighted in destruction. They really appeared to just want to watch the world burn.
Their conversation was about 50% "fuck", as in every second word was a variation on "fuck". Those passengers around me simply pushed their iPod earphones more tightly into their ears and tried to ignore it. I tried hard to look like I was not listening in.

Both looked like late teenagers, and one had what appeared to be a large, red catfish tattoo covering one forearm. They were dressed in what I would call "expensive, chic, urban slackerwear". Fashionable footwear, chunky silver chain, brand name hoodies and shorts. They did not strike me as struggling in any meaningful way, yet I wondered how they were managing to work their way through a TAFE course. They did not strike me as the studious type.

Until seeing these two on the bus, I had always had a sneaking suspicion that a certain number of vandals must get around by bus - how else would one explain the repeated tagging of bus shelters and nearby signage and structures? This just confirmed it.

Listening to them was an instructive exercise - the opportunity to observe them in a completely uninhibited environment. They were not putting on a front, and there was no one there to protect them or mitigate their behaviour (ie, as in sitting with a solicitor in a Police interview room). I got to see them raw and unedited and unfiltered.

It strikes me that when people like this are pulled up for their crimes, they know all too well how to play the game - the way to act, the things to say, the means of gaining sympathy. If social workers and judges and politicians could see them in their natural environment, they might have a different view of their motives, personalities and characters.

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